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The Most Basic Lesson

by Chip Brogden
“I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18a).
It is a great day for the Lord when a disciple of Jesus learns this most basic lesson: that in “me”, in myself, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. This is a very difficult thing for people to learn.

Jesus says that without Him we can do nothing. This verse is very well-known. Even so, Christians still attempt to do many things apart from the Lord. We feel like we simply must do something, anything. And even though the Bible says there is nothing good in our flesh, and the flesh profits nothing, we spend a lot of time doing fleshly things apart from the Spirit of Jesus, thinking they are good and profitable. It is impossible to say for sure just how many of the things we “feel led” to do and say are actually just things we feel like doing and saying. A lot of the time the Lord has very little to do with it.

This problem is part of our Adamic nature and it is at work in us long before we are born-again. Before a person becomes a Christian they sometimes believe that they are intrinsically good or moral. At least, they say, there are not as bad as others. But those who know God know that in order for a person to enter the Kingdom they must first see that their righteousness is as filthy rags, that all have fallen short of the glory of God, and that none are righteous in His sight. We protest that we are not so bad, but God says the imagination of man’s heart is only toward evil from his youth (cf. Genesis 8:21). To be saved, a person must stop claiming any righteousness of their own and accept God’s verdict of them. No matter how good they may think they are compared to the rest of mankind, they are, nevertheless, sinners in need of a Savior. They cannot be born-again until and unless they recognize and acknowledge what the Lord says about them and their condition.

We who have received the Lord as Savior have come to this knowledge of ourselves at least once in our lives. There came a day when we despaired of saving ourselves, and instead of clinging to our righteousness, we confessed our sins and admitted our need for a Savior. At that moment, Christ accepted us as His disciples. Confessing our sinfulness did not hinder us from entering the Kingdom; on the contrary, it opened the door for us to go in. The self-righteous, on the other hand, are disqualified by their own good works. How differently the Lord judges things.

Knowing Christ, Knowing Self

When we are new disciples we have truly entered the Narrow Gate but there is still much we do not know and there is still much we need to learn. We know very little about Jesus, and we know very little about ourselves. And so, the Lord begins to lead us along the Narrow Path. He primarily wants to show us two things: who we are, and Who He is. These go hand-in-hand. Self-knowledge is just as important as Christ-knowledge. The revelation of Christ begins when God opens our eyes to know Jesus. The revelation of Self begins when God opens our eyes to know ourselves. When we see the insufficiency of Self and the sufficiency of Christ we will naturally despair of ourselves and look away to Jesus. On the other hand, if we do not see ourselves correctly, we will invariably imagine ourselves to be quite a bit better than we really are. We will mistake fleshly strength for spiritual strength. We will confess with our mouth that we cannot do anything apart from Jesus, but in actual practice we will take it upon ourselves to perform many works. In time all of these works become nothing. We will fail hundreds or thousands of times until we learn the lesson – if it comes from me, if it comes from my flesh, it is no good.

Before he saw the Lord, Paul was self-confident and dangerous. Those who trust in themselves have neither seen themselves nor seen the Lord. I am afraid that many people have the idea that Jesus came only to lend them a hand and help them feel more successful and fulfilled. Today the most popular Christian books tell us how to have a better life, how to prosper, how to be a “winner”, how to improve our circumstances, and how to think nice, positive, encouraging thoughts about ourselves. The focus appears to be on making life here on earth more enjoyable and making believers more self-reliant and self-confident. This may not be the stated intention but it is the inevitable result – and if a few Scriptures can be used in the process, so much the better. It would be a mistake to equate holiness with misery and drudgery; but it is an even greater mistake to tell someone how wonderful they are until they have first despaired of themselves and learned the lesson that Paul learned: “In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing.”

Positive thinking is appropriate so long as I am living according to the Truth, but if I am unsurrendered to Jesus and living life according to my terms then I am in no position to think about myself in a positive light: I am positively deceived. We do not need Self-Esteem, we need Christ-Esteem. The more we see of Jesus the less we will trust in ourselves. That is why, once Paul learned his lesson, he wrote, “We have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3b). He then goes on to list quite a number of things that seem important in terms of religion, status, social order, education, and good works – all the things that tend to make one self-confident and self-righteous. With one grand stroke, Paul says, “Yet, I count them all as dung, that I may win Christ.” He simply discards what some people spend a lifetime trying to achieve. Here is a man who knows the sufficiency of God as well as the insufficiency of himself.

“That is fine for new believers,” someone will say. “But I have been a Christian for many years now. I have a good relationship with God, I have had many spiritual experiences and have made great progress. This message is good for younger, less mature believers, but it does not apply to me.” On the contrary, to lose all confidence in myself is the mark of spiritual maturity. Real spiritual growth is evidence by increased confidence in Christ and a decreased confidence in myself. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). You never outgrow these spiritual laws. Anyone who thinks they do not need to hear it again did not really hear it the first time.

The Example of Joseph

We have a fine example of this in the life of Joseph. When Joseph was younger he realized that God had appointed him for a special purpose. God confirmed this special calling by giving Joseph prophetic dreams about his future. Joseph should have treasured these things in his heart and quietly waited for God to bring about His Will. But being young and full of self-confidence, Joseph could not resist sharing these dreams with his father and brothers. As a result, his brothers became jealous and almost killed him. Joseph was sold into slavery and spent many years in prison. It appeared as though his dreams would not come true. Yet God was using all these circumstances to teach Joseph to have no confidence in the flesh.

After many seasons of God’s dealings, Joseph was brought to the palace to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Here was an opportunity for Joseph to finally lift himself out of a terrible situation. Someone had finally recognized him for his gift and they had the power to reward him handsomely for it. But the younger, self-confident Joseph is gone. He has finally learned the basic lesson of “not I, but Christ.” “Can you interpret my dream?” Pharaoh asked. “It is not in me,” Joseph replied. “But God will give you an answer” (cf. Genesis 41:16). And so He did, because now Joseph, emptied of himself, could be trusted. Joseph demonstrated even more wisdom and maturity in dealing with his brothers, freely demonstrating supernatural grace and love towards the ones who meant him evil.

All of our circumstances, tests, and trials are designed to get us to the place that we can say along with Joseph, “It is not in me.” God permits many things to come our way that we could otherwise avoid if we were not so cocky and self-confident. God has to work long and hard to get through to us, but what a wonderful day it is when we finally learn the lesson, bow our head, and surrender everything over to Him. Then He can really use us; but even if He does not use us, we are His nonetheless. Submitted to Him, we are equally content to be where He has placed us, whether we are sitting in the dungeon or sitting on the throne.

The Example of Peter

Peter is another good example of how every true disciple eventually learns that there is nothing good in his flesh. Peter began his walk with Jesus just as we did, acknowledging his sinfulness by saying, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Some will protest their own righteousness and feel as though they are doing God a huge favor by becoming a Christian. But Peter made a splendid beginning by frankly acknowledging himself as a sinner, and so the Lord took him just as he was and began to disciple him.

After making some progress, however, Peter started to lose touch with himself. He had followed Jesus for three years and enjoyed close fellowship with Him. He had both seen and performed miracles in Jesus’ Name. To all outward appearances he was no longer a “sinful man”, he was a “spiritual man”. Before, Peter considered himself unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus. In just a short period of time you find this “sinful man” arguing along with the other disciples about which one of them will be the greatest! This ought to show us that there is a deeper death for us to die, and the more “spiritual” we become, the more easily we are deceived by our own spirituality.

If a dentist offers to remove one of your good teeth you will probably refuse. But if that tooth develops a cavity it is only a matter of time before you seek out the dentist and have it removed. The greater the pain, the quicker you seek relief. Similarly, when the Lord first speaks of taking up the Cross, we are apt to respond as did Peter: “Not so, Lord! This will never happen to you!” We see no need for death because Self has not yet become painful enough to us. When we are tired of the pain that comes from living in the flesh then we will gladly ask God to decrease us so that He can be increased. Until then no amount of teaching, argument, or doctrine is enough to convince a person.

Peter held out until the very end. He was a very difficult case, but the Lord was patient. When Jesus said that all would forsake Him, Peter protested and announced that even if all the other disciples fled, he would never forsake Jesus. Outwardly he acted and spoke as a deeply committed believer and disciple. But when temptation came he could not even stay awake long enough to pray. Perhaps he did not feel prayer was necessary; he was strong enough to resist without praying! Then, when Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, Peter tried to defend Him with a sword. All these examples demonstrate how very little Peter knew about himself.

It was not until Peter actually did deny the Lord three times that he came to learn the same lesson that Paul learned: “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing.” After he denied the Lord he went out and wept bitterly. Finally he was broken. He hated himself for what he had done. At last he had seen something of himself, and he was ashamed. If he was capable of denying the Lord Jesus then he was capable of anything. Strangely enough, the more unworthy Peter believed himself to be, the more the Lord sought to restore and encourage him! The Lord does not break the bruised reed. When Peter was strong and arrogant, the Lord weakened him with a rebuke. When Peter was sufficiently weak and humble, the Lord strengthened him with encouragement. What a glorious Lord we have, Who meets us exactly where we are and ministers to us accordingly!

Failure Serves God’s Purpose

Jesus was not surprised or disappointed when Peter failed. In like manner, He is not surprised or disappointed when you fail. Rather, He is waiting for you to fail so you will be reduced to Him. He has no illusions about you and He knows you through and through. He knows however much your spirit may be willing, your flesh is weak. Our weakness is not the trouble – the trouble is our unwillingness to acknowledge the weakness. Paul has no confidence in the flesh, so he can say, “I rejoice in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (II Corinthians 12:9b). But we do not rejoice in our weakness the way Paul does. We either refuse to admit it, or we hide it, or we try to improve upon it, or we try to make up for it by overcompensating in some other area. People will fight and argue with me on this point because they desperately want to salvage something for themselves. They have a fragile self-esteem and this kind of news is too painful too bear.

But I bring you good tidings of great joy, dear Christian friend! This failure of Self is the very key to living the Christian life. As painful as it is, the bitter tears of failure provide the water for nurturing the Precious Seed that is planted in your heart of hearts and making it grow. To despair of ourselves is the very key that opens the door to all the power, the victory, and fruitfulness in Christ that we seek. “I KNOW that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing.” I KNOW IT, Paul says. No good thing. I know that in me, in my flesh, in my Self, there is nothing. Apart from Him I am nothing. He is Everything. CHRIST IN ME is my only Hope. In one part of me, my flesh, dwells no good thing. In the other part of me Christ lives.

Why do you lack power? Why are you unable to walk in continual victory? Why do you not see fruitfulness? Because power, victory, and fruitfulness only comes to a person who is standing on resurrection ground. God’s holy anointing oil was not to be poured out upon the flesh. God does not grant these things to people who are still living for themselves. Resurrection life is for those who have died already – how could it be otherwise? Unless a man has passed through death he cannot know anything about resurrection. If a person will not consent to the Cross then they will not die, and if they will not die then they cannot be resurrected. If they are not resurrected they cannot ascend with Christ and be seated with Him in the heavenlies, for “flesh and blood cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 15:50).

If you have a Bible Promise Book one of your favorites is probably Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” Keep in mind, however, that the same man who said this also said, “I am crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me, but this Strength is only perfected in my weakness (cf. II Corinthians 12:9). Also remember that “Apart from Me, You can do nothing” is a golden promise as well. Because I promise you that anything you do apart from Jesus will amount to nothing!

How to Enter In

Why is it so difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God? Because wealth creates the illusion of control and this breeds self-confidence. Money is like a drug that makes one feel invincible. Once the money is gone the illusion is destroyed and there is a natural humility that follows. Those who are rich in spiritual experiences find it equally difficult to enter in. Often when a person considers himself to be “apostolic” or “prophetic” or “spiritual” or “called to the ministry” they present a formidable challenge. It is most difficult to teach them anything or even discuss something with them because they are not poor in spirit, they are rich in spirit. They like to argue, fuss, debate, and find fault with others. Like the younger Joseph they always have a dream, vision, or word to speak, but they lack wisdom and maturity. They are the type of people who will walk halfway around the world to preach a message but will not drive across the street to listen to one. They want to be seen and heard, but they cannot bear to see or hear others.

Friends, it may be difficult to enter in, but it is not impossible. It IS impossible with man, this is true; but with God, all things are possible. The quicker we accept man’s impossibility the quicker we can accept God’s possibility. The way we enter in is right here: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). God’s solution to our problem is to nail us to the cross with Jesus. If we will accept this sentence of death all our problems will die right along with us. The problems will not die until we are thoroughly dead ourselves. But the day we cease striving and meekly accept the Cross we will find everything is settled. We can protest our innocence and die slowly like the two thieves, or we can quietly commit ourselves into God’s hand and give up the ghost.

What shall we do to enter in? The first thing to do is to stop doing. Then, let us learn to breathe words along these lines: Today, Lord, I give up. I am finished. I surrender. I know now that in my flesh dwells no good thing. Apart from You I am nothing, and apart from You I can do nothing. I do not even know how to pray. I accept the sentence of death, and I trust you to raise me from the dead. As I am decreased, may You be increased. I have learned that I cannot; therefore, I will not. Into Your hands I commit my spirit. You are the Resurrection and the Life, and I will wait for you to raise me from the dead. I will not raise myself. Let Your Strength be perfected in my weakness.

When this is a practical reality for a person, and not just a theory, it will sound like this: I used to be quite confident in myself and very sure, but today I have no confidence in myself. I used to be very active, but today I am content to be still. If God should rise within me, I will certainly obey Him; but if He does not move, I dare not step out ahead of Him. I will work, but I will not work according to the flesh. Instead, I will work according to His Power that works in me mightily, this power that strengthens me to do all things, this power that is perfected in my weakness. I no longer hide my weaknesses, I rejoice in them, and I look for Christ in me to overcome them all. I have surrendered myself over to Him as a bondservant, as a prisoner of the Lord. If I live, I am the Lord’s. If I die, I am the Lord’s. So in life and in death, I belong to Him.

Friends, Jesus did NOT say, “I am the Crucifixion and the Death.” He said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Meditate upon the difference! Resurrection and Life is on the other side of this Cross that Jesus requires us to take up. The Cross is the Gate of Life that leads us into the Promised Land of Resurrection. Let us embrace the Cross and glory in the Cross, for it is the power of God for our salvation. Amen.

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21 Comments

  1. Tanya Pettit

    Yes, isn’t it wonderful how God receives us as imperfect earthen vessels & uses all of us to build up His Body that we can be the Bride He is longing for! May we continue to be willing to cooperate with Him so that His Kingdom may come and His will may be done on earth. Great article and reminder that when we received Him we received all of Him i.e. His death (crucifixion) but also His resurrection. What a Christ have we!

    Reply
  2. jane

    I am an utter failure at being Christlike. I’m glad for this message because once again i am encouraged that with my death to self there is hope. But at this time, blessings and cursings come out of my mouth in the same day! I meditate on abiding in the vine and later I become enraged over the shortcomings of my children. Gosh I wonder how God feels about me?!!! I relate to being a total looser at being Christlike. I am two-faced, weak and powerless over my circumstances. I am glad to hear this message because hopefully soon I will get to the end of my self and will walk in obedience and newness of life in Christ. I hope to live to experience restored relationships and the joy of trusting and obeying the direction of the Holy Spirit in my life. I can certainly relate to Paul as he KNOWS there is no good thing in him. I also KNOW this about my self. But it makes me sad. So I am praying that I will somehow understand and lay down my life, stubborness, and impulsive nature! That is my only hope. I want to be like Jesus but obviously I’m not dead yet. I keep failing at the basics! Keep teaching Chip! I am desperate to get the Truth in me. Otherwise what’s the purpose of living? I seek the realization of the Truth about taking up my cross, about total dependence on God for direction. Thanks again for this message. Also I have been recently going to church some. I am so busy and have such little time away from work to spend with my children and family. If the church on the corner were teaching this message i would not be able to stay away! But instead I come away thinking about how much time I lost that I could be doing something else as time is short! So I guess others feel this way. Its so hard sometimes to know what’s right. And then the preacher calls and asks us to lunch hoping that I’ll join the church. Gosh! I just want to walk in victory! I think I’ll lay down and die! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Lynn

    “I am weak, but He is strong” To God be the glory, forever and ever.

    Reply
  4. Debbie

    Jane, Thank you for your honesty!
    This is my story as well.
    Please keep teaching the Truth, Chip!

    Reply
  5. Louise Bogle

    IF ONLY THE CHILDREN WOULD GET A REVELATION OF JUST HOW “DECEIVING” THE FLESH CAN BE. SO VERY MANY GO HERE AND GO THERE,…DOING THEIR RELIGIOUS DUTY THAT IS EXPECTED OF THEM BY MAN, AND COME AWAY “FEELING” SO PURE AND RIGHTEOUS! THE LORD BURST MY RELIGIOUS BUBBLE ONE NIGHT LONG AGO,…HE SAID TO MY SPIRIT,… “WHY” ARE “YOU” FEELING SO PURE AND RIGHTEOUS ABOUT WHAT “YOU” JUST DID ?
    REVELATION ! IT WAS THE FLESH,…FEELING GOOD ABOUT WHAT “IT” HAD JUST DONE! “IT WENT TO (SO-CALLED) CHURCH.”

    Reply
  6. Denise Bennett

    Jane, you have spoken well. Going to church will not free you. Living a closer relationship with Jesus, by living your faith with your kids will change us. II Peter said we are living stones. This being the case begin a close relationship with another believer who desires to know more of Jesus. Where there are two or more gathered He is there. Break bread together as often as possible. Have wonderful times in the Lord. Share the revelation of Christ with one another in the presence of your family. Confess your sins to one another. Hold each other accountable by asking the hard questions, “how are you doing with that?”. Pray for one another and pray for your family. Pray without ceasing. You can be in mindful prayer even while you are at work. Be focused on others first. Jesus was with the disciples daily. He did not live life alone. The Acts 2 church was the people not a building.

    Watch your eyes be changed about your kid’s shortcomings as you receive revelation about the input you have had in those patterns. Know that we were all broken when Christ received us and now what ever we broke in our kids only Jesus can fix. This is not a bash on your character alone, we just weren’t taught to love, but now is the time to start seeking after Jesus and learning how to love.

    These are just small steps in the kingdom now life but they are the building blocks in the foundation of who Jesus is. You have no need for any man to teach you. I would say that the lessons Chip is sharing is revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ. You are being taught by the Holy Spirit how to live. Once the lesson is shared if you are filled with the Spirit and you are desiring the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will teach you.

    Carry on in your search for Jesus. You will not be disappointed as you continue to die to self and desire all that He has destined for you.

    Reply
  7. Tina Baxley

    How many are the times that we say to the Lord, this woman that you gave me, she did cause me to eat. How happy are they who are content to eat from the tree of Life and not set their eyes on the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The church/Eve, has brought forth things that determine whether we can enter in or not, which is no less than showing people their depravity– we eat this stuff and because its root is self/flesh this is what grows. But if we just continue to eat of the tree of Life then this is the seed which by the laws of God reproduces after His own kind. Before the fall, God instructed them to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. Most take that to mean to marry and bring forth off spring, however the spiritual aspect is to allow Him to be reproduced in us that the earth is replenished with His, love, joy, peace, long suffering,goodness etc..
    I too have done this very thing in betraying my groom with a kiss, then seeing His hurt and disappointment for that which I had done, I blamed it on this woman You gave me, she did make me to eat.
    Thank God for grace that is sufficient. May we all overcome and get past the flesh.

    Reply
  8. John

    I’ve come to understand that God is not on a mission to REFORMED me but His mission is to KILL me so that He can raise me up. I know often time I tried to commit suicide so that I can resurrect immediately but It is not about me killing myself but Him nailing me to the cross. Oh! How stubborn one can be in Your hand but, Teach me oh Lord to “SAY YES LORD” and “NAY TO SELF”. For Thou will indeed kill me and there is nothing I can do to escape that but the earlier I surrender the quicker the death.
    In Your Kingdom dear Lord, there is only ONE man You want to see and that MAN is CHRIST not John or David, But the earlier this revelation dawn on me the better.
    Once again Lord, “TEACH ME TO SAY YES LORD”.
    Thank You dear brother Chip for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Bruce

      John
      So true what you said. Much to think about along with what Chip has shared. Especially the comment about killing ourselves, seems like in some way we (I) think we can still be in control that way. Ugh
      Thanks.

      Reply
  9. Martha

    Thank you Brother for that nugget of truth in todays Infinite Supply .. surely it was learned by experience.

    Reply
  10. molly

    awsome teaching i loved it from the begining to the end .pl keep on as to the is inspiration you receive to teach us chip. i see how much more i need to deny to be in christ day by day in my thought pattern, attitude and deny self to be a christlike . lord create in me a new heart daily and be transformed as you need me to be in Your Hands a vehicle for people you need to use me.thank You Jesus for the victory on the cross for us.amen

    Reply
  11. Tracy

    amen brother : To die is to gain. That is why we have weak christians today so much emphasis is put on what YOU can do for the kingdom – YOUR potential etc. But YOU and I can do NOTHING apart from Christ. and when trials and testing come they cry out why Lord have you forsaken me , grumble and complain. Praise God for our trials and discipline – for God disciplines those he dearly loves. But people do not want that part of the word – It is a troublesome burden to see the sheep slaughtered with twisting of the scriptures to as what Arnold would say ” I want to pump you up”. Have mercy and forgive us God For it is Christ No us..Not to us but to your name be the Glory..Jesus Christ!!

    Reply
  12. Melsheart

    Well said Jane.. I feel the same 🙁 I’m really struggling with myself! And how easy it is to .. once again… try everything out of your own, when no good thing can come from me!!! Thats’ for sure!

    While reading this article, I was reminded of the time when my husband and I was trying for a baby. We tried 3 years,.. we were getting miserable, scared that something was wrong, and sad! Frustrated!! And then I just made up my mind one day, I’m giving up!! Now I will just enjoy my marriage, and if I don’t have a baby, well then so be it — ie I made peace with it, and GAVE UP TRYING.. and yes, like SO MANY MOMMIES with the same exact story, the moment you give up – LIFE HAPPENS LOL, yes GOD made it happen lol. God gave us a baby – we didn’t make our baby 🙂 it is a wonderful feeling, and something I must remind myself everyday off…

    Reply
  13. Alejandro Espino

    Hi there Chip, relative to the above article, I have a question and that is “what is/could be the impact, significance, implication of the finish work of the Lord Jesus on/of the Cross?”

    Reply
    • Chip Brogden

      I’m not sure I understand your question. Can you elaborate?

      Reply
  14. Kenneth E Dawson

    Very true!

    Reply
  15. Claude-France

    The only thing I can say is Amen !!

    Reply

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